Peggy Kendrick, the former captain at the White River Juvenile Detention Center in Batesville, was sentenced to seven years in federal prison yesterday for horrific mistreatment of children in her care, Linda Satter reports for the Democrat-Gazette.
U.S. District Judge James Moody cited “sadistic and completely unjustified” treatment of the children in the lockup facility. Kendrick pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate their civil rights in April 2017. Kendrick admitted that she unjustifiably assaulted and physically punished “juvenile inmates at White River who were compliant, not physically resisting, and posing no threat,” and ordered subordinates at the facility to engage in the same mistreatment.
According to court filings by prosecutors, the abuse at the center included pepper spraying children in the face and then rather than decontaminating them, shutting them in their cells to “let them cook.” Staffers at the center also routinely used excessive physical force and tasers for minor infractions, placed children in a cell known as Max 1 that exposed them to extreme temperatures in summer and winter, and bound them for hours in restraint chairs with no justification. Kendrick admitted that she required officers to “make their reports look good,” falsifying reports to cover up the abuse.
In some cases, the children tortured at the facility were not resisting in the first place, including one 14-year-old who was asleep in his bunk when he was pepper sprayed by a guard who was working under Kendrick.
The abuse was not limited to children detained at White River; other juvenile lockup facilities throughout the state would send children to White River for “timeout” periods as punishment when they misbehaved or were considered problems those facilities.
Among the specific acts that Kendrick admitted to, outlined in the federal information filed by prosecutors, here are two examples: Pepper-spraying a 16-year-old girl in the face while she had her arms folded and was not physically resisting in any way, then falsifying a report about it; twice over the course of eight days leaving a 14-year-old boy to “cook” in his cell after he was pepper-sprayed in the face with no justification.
The seven-year sentence handed down by Moody was 13 months higher than the recommended sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines.
From Satter’s report from the sentencing proceeding in the Eastern District:
One of her former victims, who was 16 at the time and is now 22, flew into Little Rock from Montana to make a victim-impact statement.
“I was sent there for help,” Elizabeth Lollis told the judge. “I was abused at home, I was abused at school.”
Then, breaking down in tears while her porcelain complexion turned bright red, the petite blond continued: “I trusted these people. I was hurt. I was scared. I was constantly threatened. All I wanted was help.”
Lollis said she still has nightmares about Kendrick charging into her cell, confronting her about a profane message she wrote on the wall using toothpaste, and then pepper-spraying her directly in the face and leaving her to “cook.” A video-camera in Lollis’ cell captured the attack, and prosecutors played it again Thursday at the sentencing hearing.
“I want Peggy to know I forgive her, and forgave her the day I left there,” Lollis said from a courtroom lectern, adding that she hopes Kendrick “learns from this.”
Asked by Moody why she did it, Kendrick responded, “That’s just the way I was trained.”
* UPDATE: Here’s a press release out today from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Easter District:
Former Captain of the White River Regional Juvenile Detention Center, Peggy Kendrick, 45, was sentenced yesterday to prison for her role in conspiring to assault juvenile inmates, assaulting a 16-year-old juvenile, and obstructing justice by falsifying incident reports about that assault. Kendrick, who served as captain and administrator of the detention center, and was in charge of its daily operations, was sentenced to 84 months in prison and three years of supervised release, announced Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland of the Eastern District of Arkansas, and Special Agent in charge Diane Upchurch of the FBI Little Rock Field Office.
“This defendant abused her power as Captain and attempted to cover up the assault of young inmates under her care and custody,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to aggressively enforce our nation’s laws and hold officers who break the law and mistreat inmates accountable.”
“As former Captain of the facility, this defendant was in a position of trust. Her behavior towards these children violated that trust, and the sentence shows these actions will not go unpunished,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Cody Hiland.
“We are morally, constitutionally, and legally obligated to treat juvenile inmates humanely. The sentencing reflects our commitment to investigate the mistreatment of inmates by the people in charge of them,” stated Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch with the Little Rock FBI Field Office. “We appreciate the efforts of our partners at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas and the FBI.”
On April 26, 2017, Kendrick pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to assault juvenile inmates at the White River facility. According to the plea documents, Kendrick assaulted and physically punished juvenile detainees who posed no threat, including by spraying them in the face with pepper spray. In some instances, she then shut the compliant juveniles in their cells after pepper spraying them to “let them cook,” or continue suffering the effects of the pepper spray, rather than immediately decontaminating them. Kendrick also encouraged other juvenile detention officers to unjustifiably assault juveniles and to falsify their incident reports to cover up the assaults.
Kendrick also pleaded guilty to assaulting a 16-year-old girl by pepper spraying her in the face for failing to follow directions. At the time, the girl, who was in the detention center as part of the “Families in Need of Service” program and had not been charged with any crime, was standing in the back corner of her cell with her arms folded, and not posing a physical threat to anyone or physically resisting in any way. Kendrick covered up the assault by writing an incident report falsely claiming that the girl had clenched her fist and stepped toward Kendrick in an aggressive manner.
Kendrick was sentenced yesterday by United States District Court Judge James M. Moody Jr. On March 14, Judge Moody sentenced Dennis Fuller, 41, who served as Kendrick’s lieutenant, to 36 months in prison for his role in the conspiracy.
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Little Rock Division. Trial Attorneys Samantha Trepel and Michael J. Songer of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Assistant United States Attorneys Julie Peters and Pat Harris of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas prosecuted the case.